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Education Minister to open conference at Coffs Harbour


Steve Spinks
1 August 2012
The NSW Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli has announced bold plans to change teacher education ahead of this week’s 2012 International Teacher Education Dialogue Conference at Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus.

The conference, which will be opened by the Minister on Thursday August 2, will focus on new ideas and innovations in teacher education and will include various speakers from across the globe. More than 200 participants will attend the two day conference.

Coffs Harbour Head of Campus Professor David Lynch, who has recently released a book on teacher education titled ‘Preparing Teachers in Times of Change: teaching schools, standards, new content and evidence’, believes the Minister’s announcement of a discussion paper on teacher education is timely.

“Teacher education in Australia is based on a model that was developed more than 40 years ago. It reflects a time and place when the goal was to professionalise education by moving ‘training’ from largely apprenticeships into formal study in colleges of higher education and later universities,” he said.

“The problem is that this move has created a gap between the theory and practice of teaching such that teaching graduates report feeling ill prepared for the realities of classroom teaching. A point also regularly cited by school principals. The chief problem with the current model of teacher education is the teacher education program is highly theorised, lacks a cohesive focus to preparing teachers - as the study regime is tantamount to a smorgasbord of theories to choose from - and tends to focus on preparing teachers for ‘how to think about teaching’ rather than how to teach.

“In fact you will be hard pressed to find study units in a teacher education program that focus on key things such as ‘how to teach reading’, a key requirement of the classroom teacher. Teaching students are not prepared to be experts in the content they are to teach either. Teaching content knowledge is very slim. Further teacher education continues to prepare a teacher for a classroom circumstance that no longer exists. There is very little research done in ‘teacher education’ per se, so it operates largely in a data/evidence free zone. It’s all made up for the convenience of the TE faculty. There’s little evidence available to guide a rethink.”

Professor Lynch believes a four step process could revolutionise teacher education in Australia.

“Firstly, Australia needs to establish a national centre for teacher education research: develop an evidence base as to what works in TE,” he said.

“Secondly, make teacher education a post-graduate pursuit, ideally at masters level. This increases the status of teaching as a career, enables experienced professional career changers to enter teaching, but it also demands that teachers have degree level knowledge in the area they are to teach. Poor teacher literacy and numeracy skills and limited content knowledge generally, for example, must be a thing of the past.

“Thirdly, teacher education must be viewed as a responsibility of universities and schools, a genuine partnership to prepare our future teachers. The model must have a balance between theory and practice, but the theory must be focused about on teaching. We’ve won many of the ideological battles of old. The new battle to win is about every kid making the required learning gains.

“And lastly, the key to the new model is the idea of a teaching school. Built on the premise of the medical profession’s teaching hospital, schools and universities join forces to prepare and nurture the next generation of teacher and to work on reforming the current model of schooling, where teacher quality and student learning outcomes are paramount.”

The conference theme is ‘Innovation and new ideas in teaching and teacher education’. Keynote speakers include Mr Piccoli, who will also participate in a panel discussion; Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, of Southern Cross University; Mark Treadwell, an independent education consultant; and Jenny Luca, the head of information services at Toorak College.

Positions at the conference have been filled but Professor Lynch is encouraging local teachers to attend a function on Thursday night, hosted at Osprey Function Centre at the campus, to listen, talk and enjoy the opportunity to talk to leaders in the field of education research and practice.

Media opportunity: The Hon Adrian Piccoli, Minister for Education, will be available for interview between 10.30am and 11am at the Coffs Harbour campus. Professor Lynch will also be available for interview at this time. Photo: Professor David Lynch.